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Side Practice Coffee Puts People Front and Center in Chicago

Side Practice Coffee chicago

Inside the Side Practice Coffee shop at N. Damen and Foster in Chicago. Photo by Maria Meade, courtesy of Side Practice Coffee.

A multiroaster coffee shop on Chicago’s north side called Side Practice Coffee is designed to fuel the creative and entrepreneurial efforts its owner and the surrounding community.

“Having side projects or small businesses has always been a part of who I am,” Side Practice Coffee Owner Francis Almeda told DCN. “I love coming up with creative ideas, launching and building things, many of which you’ll see around the cafe.”

chicago coffee bar

Photo by Maria Meade, courtesy of Side Practice Coffee.

With 840-square-foot of space and a modern green-thumb decor, the cafe features a 2-group La Marzocco Linea espresso machine alongside Mazzer grinders, a Fetco batch brewer and Kalita Wave brewers for pourovers.

The steel and black of these machines is enhanced by artwork found throughout the shop. Stickers blanket the shop’s fridge and its benches made from skateboard shapes.

side practice latte

Photo by Maria Meade, courtesy of Side Practice Coffee.

A retail display case built by Almeda stands across from the coffee bar, showcasing and selling photographs from artists, streetwear and “just about any product or good you can think of, we’ve had or would love to have in the cafe,” Almeda said.

In the spirit of supporting other hustles, the shop features single-origin coffees from numerous Chicago roasters, including New Math Coffee, Four Letter Word and Angora Coffee, as well as roasters from farther afield such as Friedhats and Manhattan Coffee Roasters (both from The Netherlands).

bike coffee shop

A hanging bike inside the shop calls back to one of Almeda’s first entrepreneurial ventures. Photo by Maria Meade, courtesy of Side Practice Coffee.

While serving coffees from all over the world, the shop takes particular interest in serving beans of Asian origin, while also highlighting some Southeast Asian flavors.

“As a Filipino, I wanted to highlight those Asian beans and blends first,” Almeda said, noting that the shop also creates its own ube syrup for drinks such as the Manila Matcha Latte.

ube iced side practice

Photo by Maria Meade, courtesy of Side Practice Coffee.

In addition to its signature creations, Side Practice serves a full menu of espresso-based drinks, cold brews and drip coffees. Croissants, quiches, danishes and muffins come from Chicago’s Phlour Bakery; ube doughnuts come from nearby Gurnee Donuts; and Chicago’s Howdy Kolache provides sweet and savory doughy treats.

Yet all these items are primarily intended to build up community in and around the shop at North Damen and Foster.

Side Practice Coffee seating

Photo by Maria Meade, courtesy of Side Practice Coffee.

“At the heart of why I opened this shop back in 2020 is the people,” said Almeda, who maintains a graphic design practice, among other professional endeavors. “It’s always been a dream of mine to open up a cafe that gave back to the community and offered a platform for entrepreneurs of color who aren’t always recognized elsewhere.”

Although Almeda did not come from a coffee background, he recognized social gaps in the coffee scene locally before diving into this particular Side Practice. 

“It was hard finding a good cup of coffee in my neighborhood. Every corner I turned, I saw commercial coffee shops,” Almeda said. “I knew I had to at least open a cafe that served coffee where I would like drinking, and my hopes were that the community would follow along and enjoy tasting specialty coffee that they hadn’t tasted before. I was just trying to zag when everyone else was zigging.” 

Side Practice Coffee outside

Photo by Maria Meade, courtesy of Side Practice Coffee.

While leaning on different independent coffee shop owners around Chicago to fortify his own coffee knowledge, Almeda also began to develop a talented team, including Noel Nissen who now serves as director of tea, and Ty Banks, who manages roaster relationships as the shop’s director of coffee.

Said Almeda, “The people that I have around me are wonderful.”

Side Practice is now open at 5139 N. Damen Ave. in Chicago. Tell DCN’s editors about your new coffee shop or roastery here